Don’t take no shortcuts and hurry along as fast as you can. — (Various sources attribute this to Patty Reed, age 8; Virginia Reed, Age 12; and Tamsen Donner, adult; Donner Party Survivors, 1847).
If you don’t know the story of the Donner Party, treat yourself to a trip to your local library. There are epic lessons to be learned from their horrific journey over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The short version is that they didn’t get along with each other, took wagons that were too big and heavy, and made a very bad decision to take a “shortcut” which turned out to be 125 miles and added weeks to the trek. This came at a crucial time, and they ended up getting caught in a winter snowstorm, starving, and practicing cannibalism. Patty Reed was a little girl who survived this disastrous trek. She had been told not to take any toys with her to carry, but managed to smuggle a tiny 4-inch doll in her pocket which the last I heard was being housed in the Indian Museum at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California. There aren’t many little girls in Northern Nevada and Northern California who don’t know Patty’s story.
The Mormon pioneers came shortly after the Donner party, and benefited from the lessons learned by the Donner Party the winter of 1846-47. Actually, it was perfect timing for the Mormon pioneers. They not only had the benefit of learning from the Donner Party, but they preceded the California gold rush, so they were able to profit from those fortune seekers traveling in search of gold.
Generations later, there is still much to be learned from the Donner Party. For instance, even with modern vehicles and technological advances, one should never travel over Donner Summit (winter or summer) without snow chains, food, water, and a good first aid kit. Digging deeper, there are spiritual lessons to learn.
Don’t Take No Shortcuts
There are lots of shortcuts in life. Most of them take us wandering in the wilderness much like the Donner Party. Others take us to the great spacious building (1 Nephi 8:26). No shortcut has ever been discovered (or ever will be) that includes the iron rod (1 Nephi 8:19, 24, 30). Mortals always want to take the easy way out, but the Lord has been clear on this point. He is the only way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is impossible to take any shortcuts on the path to eternal life. Shortcuts simply do not include that all-important iron rod.
It might seem easier to stay home from Church “until the kids are older”, or “until things settle down”. That might seem like a logical shortcut if you are struggling to keep your children quiet during Sacrament meeting (worship service), or you are living a busy lifestyle and could use an extra day to organize your life, or just relax. Unfortunately, 125 extra miles is added onto your trek by children who never learn to sit still in Church and won’t attend with you when they are older. Another 125 miles is added to the journey when you discover that life never “settles down.” In other words, the time is now. Shortcuts don’t really exist; only mirages leading nowhere—at least no place we want to go.
Hurry Along As Fast As You Can
Don’t dawdle. I wish I had a nickel for every time I said that to my kids growing up. I used to read them a children’s book called “Hurry Up, Slowpoke” by Crosby Newell about a little mouse named Simon who dawdled while walking with his mother and sister, Lucy. Dawdling was only a minor irritant to this busy mother, but dawdling can lead to crucial mistakes when we consider eternal things.
If the Donner Party had reached the top of the mountain just two days earlier, they would have been able to travel the last 100 miles to the safety of the Sacramento Valley before the blizzard hit. If they had followed counsel from those knowledgeable about the dangers, they would have left their overloaded, over-sized wagons behind. They would have traveled the approved route. They would have completely beaten the storm. Dawdling for the Donner Party proved to be a deadly proposition.
If we stay focused on that iron rod and don’t let go, we are safe. Dawdling gives us time to think about straying from that rod to investigate, get into trouble, and put ourselves into harm’s way. For instance, reading the scriptures online is convenient and helpful for me as long as I “hurry along” and continue pondering and praying. If I dawdle and let my mind wander to other subjects, I find myself reading blogs or other things that divert my attention away from the scriptures. Since I know this is a problem for me, I prefer to use my hard copy scriptures for daily scripture study. I still use the online scriptures when I am researching for articles or other things, but my daily personal study is done away from internet temptations.
There are many temptations that can loosen our grip on the iron rod causing us to dawdle when we should be hurrying along. Anything that is not in line with gospel principles should be clearly labeled as a mirage instead of a shortcut. All things that cause us to be disobedient will take us into the wilderness or to the great spacious building. The next time temptation is put on your path, remember the tragedy that came to the Donner Party. Don’t take no shortcuts and hurry along as fast as you can.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.